In an effort to defend religion against the well-aimed broadsides of Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, some have argued that the “new atheists” are liberals who are disturbingly unaware of the debt that their values owe to Christianity. In particular, John Gray and Terry Eagleton maintain that the celebration of liberty and individuality has its roots in Christian theology. In short, the cornerstone of liberalism has its source in Christianity. I will explain why his argument is spurious.
Philip Pullman, one of the great anti-theists of our time, presents the heroine of his Northern Lights (the original British title; The Golden Compass is its North American and Hollywood film incarnation) as a child whose natural intelligence and goodness make her the embodiment of courage, confidence, and intelligence in a world dominated by the unsurpassed power of the evil Magisterium (a not-so-veiled reference to the Catholic Church). The latter indoctrinates children and fills them with irrational fears and superstitions that make them gullible, cowardly, dependent, irrational, and servile. The young girl manages to defy the evil Magisterium thanks to her intellect, courage, autonomy, and magnanimity.